Zac Goldsmith has been selected to stand again for the Conservatives in Richmond Park just a few months after resigning over Heathrow expansion, while former cabinet minister Esther McVey has been picked to run in George Osborne’s old seat of Tatton. The two Conservatives were picked by their local parties despite having previously lost their seats.
Goldsmith resigned as a Tory MP over his party’s support for a third runway and subsequently lost his seat to the Liberal Democrats’ Sarah Olney while running as an independent candidate. She ran on a pro-EU platform in the strongly remain-voting seat, while Goldsmith had campaigned to leave the EU.
He is a controversial choice after being accused by some of his own party of running a dog-whistle Islamophobic campaign in his bid to become mayor of London ahead of Labour’s Sadiq Khan.
Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrats’ chief whip, said it showed Goldsmith “has just lost his last shred of credibility” since nothing had changed in the Conservatives’ Heathrow policy since he resigned over the issue.
“People in Richmond Park voted resoundingly against a hard Brexit and against Heathrow expansion, both backed by Zac Goldsmith’s Conservative party,” Brake said. “Instead they voted for the Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney.”
McVey, a former disabilities minister who sat in David Cameron’s cabinet, lost her Wirral West seat to Labour at the 2015 election. She is now likely to return to parliament in Osborne’s vacated seat, which has a large Conservative majority of 18,000.
The Conservatives are predicted to win an overall majority according to the opinion polls, but Labour and the Liberal Democrats have a chance to make some gains in pro-remain areas represented by Tories.
Also on Wednesday night, the Green party took the significant step of deciding not to run a candidate in Brighton Kemptown, held by Conservative Simon Kirby by a majority of just 690 against Labour.
The decision gives Labour a real possibility of making a gain, as the Greens received 3,167 votes in 2015, which would be enough to beat Kirby if all its voters switched to Labour.
It is the first credible example of a attempt at an anti-Tory progressive alliance – an idea supported by a number of Labour, Lib Dem and Green activists – but has faltered over the tribal unwillingness of parties to stand down in specific seats. A number of Ukip branches have already declared that they will not stand against pro-Brexit Conservatives.
The Liberal Democrats have also announced that they will not stand against Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, in Brighton Pavilion, whose nearest challenger is Labour.
Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens said: “In Brighton something amazing is happening. People are putting aside party allegiances and working together so we have the best possible chance of delivering a fairer voting system and beating the Tories at the next election.
“Greens will be standing for election across this country and putting across our unique vision, but in a handful of places our members are taking brave decisions for the common good. It’s now up to the Lib Dem and Labour leaderships to sit down for talks about how we can make this movement for electoral alliances work.
“Tonight’s decision by local Lib Dems is welcome, particularly after Greens stood aside in Richmond. They recognise that I will be fighting this government’s extreme Brexit every step of the way and I thank them for their support.”
Davy Jones, the Green candidate standing down in Brighton Kemptown, who also ran in 2015, said: “Tonight the Brighton & Hove Green Party agreed that we should not stand in Brighton Kemptown, so as not to split the progressive vote. This is brave and historic decision.
“We didn’t ask for a deal: we chose instead to step down unilaterally, to help the proudly progressive city of Brighton and Hove to return three progressive MPs.
“We also wanted to send a powerful message to other parties that we are prepared to make the first move in order to get progressive alliance talks going.
“We now urge other parties to join us in discussing how we can work together to defeat the Tories and fix our broken voting system.”